A new organization that was launched to break down barriers and raise the profile of Black-owned contracting companies in Canada has been steadily gaining momentum with members across the country.
The Toronto-based Afro-Canadian Contractors Association (ACCA) has 155 members, mostly in the Greater Toronto Area, but contractors from British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Alberta are also now on board.
ACCA president Stephen Callender, who owns Bass Installation, a company in Mississauga that installs glass on skyscrapers, says growing the organization is a priority and new members are still signing up.
“Growth is the main thing right now and we’re making sure that we get good contractors coming in because our organization has a standard.”
Most of the contractors who are behind the organization have been in business for some time so are putting that experience to good use in helping to spread the word, he adds.
The organization is presently focused on signing up new members of the Black community and educating them about the industry so they can become profitable contractors. To attract new members, the ACCA is offering contractors a free membership for three months so they can see what is being done.
To educate members, the organization holds monthly seminars on topics such as starting a business, procurement and job execution.
“Contractors who already have a business can show the new ones how they can grow the business by teaching members how to bid jobs, how to price jobs and how to execute jobs, and for those who want to be a general contractor, what they need in the way of education and where to go to grow their businesses,” says Callender.
The ACCA is also working towards developing an online directory of Black contractors who are available for residential projects and reaching out to businesses and institutions for potential partnership opportunities.
“But our main goal right now is to get our contractors up and going,” says Callender. “Once you get the contractors going, then we can pull in young people.”
The idea for the organization arose three years ago when a couple of contractors were in Ottawa to talk to the federal government about Black contractors. Follow-up meetings were held with contractors and the idea gathered momentum.
In early 2020, the contractors decided to take action and form the organization.
In April 2020, however, COVID-19 hit which caused uncertainty for the construction industry, so the idea was put on hold until a number of incidents last summer in which nooses were found at construction sites in Toronto.
When I started I would not put my face on my website because you would be discriminated against,
— Stephen Callender
Afro-Canadian Contractors Association
In June, two nooses were found at the Michael Garron Hospital site, another on a site at 81 Bay St., and another on a site at Regent Park. In July, a noose was found on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project. In September, two more nooses were found on the property of the Michael Garron Hospital site.
After the incidents, the contractors decided it was time for action.
“When the nooses appeared in Toronto we said, ‘OK, we have to do something now,’ ” explains Callender.
The organization was incorporated last September and in February 2021 it was officially launched to coincide with Black History Month. The organization is currently governed by a six-member board of directors.
The organization notes that racial discrimination and a lack of racial equality permeates Canada’s construction industry and Black workers must overcome major hurdles even before they reach the construction site.
Callender, who came to Canada from Barbados in 1976, recalls when he started in the industry there were no Black contractors.
“As a matter of fact, when I started I would not put my face on my website because you would be discriminated against,” he explains.
While there will be hurdles to overcome, Callender says the organization is an important first step towards the goal.
“One of the problems is that a lot of people got disheartened many years ago by different organizations, so we are offering a free membership for three months to attract members and show them what we are doing.”
The organization has laid out some basic principles it will follow — Talent-Respect-Unified-Skilled-Trades, or TRUST — and will work to increase the presence of Black-owned construction companies and tradespeople by creating a steady pool of experienced and trained contractors in both the residential and ICI sectors.
Callender says many Black youth must overcome major hurdles even before they reach the construction site. He aims to multiply the number of Black-led projects and ensure Black workers are treated fairly and paid equally.
Many Black youth have been held back by racism and have decided to give up on their futures, says Callender.
“They are out there but they are hiding from the system, or they experienced racism and they decided to give up.”